COVID-19: National's Chris Bishop calls on Government to 'move heaven and earth' for coronavirus vaccine rollout amid European Union export threat

National's Chris Bishop is challenging the Government to speak louder and push harder to get a COVID-19 vaccine into New Zealand.

His comments come after the European Union warned it would tighten COVID-19 vaccine exports due to Oxford University's AstraZeneca factory in Belgium having production issues. 

The threat could cut the EU's supply in half and the bloc last week warned it would tighten the export of any vaccines produced in Europe.

"Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first COVID-19 vaccines to create a truly global common good," EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a televised statement last week. "Now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins is adamant the brewing battle wouldn't slow New Zealand's vaccination campaign, but Bishop wants the Government to be more transparent about its contracts with vaccine companies.

"I think we need greater transparency as to what contracts they've signed and they should be moving heaven and earth … what happened between November and now? In November, we were at the front of the queue," said Bishop, National's COVID-19 Response spokesperson.

He questioned whether the Government had negotiated hard enough to ensure timely vaccine delivery. New Zealand has pre-purchased enough of the AstraZeneca vaccine to immunise 3.8 million Kiwis, as well as 750,000 doses from Pfizer/BioNTech, 5 million from Janssen, and 5.36 million from Novavax.

"I think we adopted the right strategy of signing deals with as many people as we could [but] the question is whether we negotiated hard enough to ensure the deliveries turned up on time," Bishop told The AM Show on Monday.

"The Pfizer vaccine, which will potentially be the first into New Zealand, has not been approved yet but also hasn't arrived yet.

"Here's a newsflash for New Zealanders; it's all very well to approve a vaccine [but] it's not here."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced last week New Zealand's medicine regulator Medsafe was expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine by Wednesday. 

But Bishop wants to know more about New Zealand's deal with Pfizer.

"What does our contract with Pfizer say about delivery? If the [contract] says, 'they must be in the country by January', [then] Pfizer's broken its contract," said Bishop. "I don't think the contract says that - I think the contract says something like, 'hey Pfizer, you can deliver 750,000 doses of your vaccine by, say, May.'"

When the vaccine eventually arrives, a full rollout is expected to take up to 12 months. The first vaccines to arrive in New Zealand are expected before the end of March for border workers and quarantine staff. 

Meanwhile, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield last week seemed unconcerned by the EU threat and explained why Medsafe needed to approve vaccines when rollouts had already commenced overseas. 

"The vaccine is being used in most other countries on the basis of an emergency approval, not a full actual registration process," Dr Bloomfield said.

Hipkins said last week he trusted vaccine producers to honour their pre-purchase agreements with New Zealand

"We have done what we can do in terms of pre-purchase agreements that we have in securing the supplies to support that, we're doing everything we can at the New Zealand end, but we can't necessarily control what's happening around the rest of the world," Hipkins said. 

He said that's why the Government invested in a range of vaccine candidates.